Voting Rights News – 3/6/14

Ohio, a perennial hotbed of voter suppression activity, has been in the news recently for its brand new restrictive voting laws and its cuts to early voting. But Ohio is not the only state with voting rights issues on the agenda.

Here are a few others that you should know about.

Arizona – The SB 1062 veto was not the only action that Governor Jan Brewer took last week. She signed legislation repealing HB 2305, a 2013 law whose suppressive provisions affected infrequent voters wishing to remain on the permanent early voting rolls; community groups trying to get out the vote; third-party candidates and voter initiatives trying to get on the ballot; and more. While it's good news that this law is no longer on the books, some have expressed concern about robbing the people of the final decision.

Georgia – Early voting in municipal elections could be cut even further if HB 891, which has already passed through the Georgia House, is signed into law. In 2011, the available early voting period dropped from forty-five days to twenty-one days, and the new proposal would narrow it to just six days. It would also prevent municipalities from adding their own evening and weekend hours. While a House amendment made some changes, opposition is still clear among advocacy groups, and it remains to be seen what will happen in the Senate.

Michigan – Good news in the Great Lakes State: Flint legislators Woodrow Stanley (House) and Jim Anancich (Senate) are asking for a hearing on no-excuse absentee voting.

North Carolina – As litigation challenging last year's law moves forward, its suppressive impacts are becoming even clearer. While the law reduces early voting days, Governor Pat McCrory had said that it doesn't actually cut early voting because it keeps the same number of available hours on the books. Well, one-third of counties now have the go-ahead to make those additional cuts during the upcoming May primary. And Appalachian State University looks like it will once again be without its own early voting site.

Wisconsin – The NAACP/Voces de la Frontera and League of Women Voters cases challenging the state's photo ID law were heard by the state Supreme Court last week, and a ruling is expected by the end of June. Separate federal challenges to the law were heard in November; their rulings could come any day.

PFAW will continue its work on behalf of a 'Voters In' vision to enact needed reforms and will step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack.

Looking for even more news? Check out our friends at the Fair Elections Legal Network.

PFAW

Presidential Commission Issues Report on Election Administration

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama announced the formation of a nonpartisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting. Yesterday, nearly a year later, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) issued its report.

As Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post summarizes, the PCEA covered online voter registration and early voting, voter registration modernization, polling place resources and accessibility, poll workers, and more.

The PCEA recommendations are indeed a welcome addition to the voting rights debate, helping us move closer to the day when every eligible voter can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts.

Jon Greenbaum, Chief Counsel, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

We are encouraged by the recommendations in this report. If fully implemented, practical commonsense measures like early voting and voter registration modernization will improve voter participation and satisfaction.

Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center for Justice:

The Commission’s report marks a significant advance in the way we think about voting. Too often voting issues have been marked by partisan discord. The Commission makes clear that there are achievable, bipartisan reforms that can be implemented now to transform voting in America. Most importantly, it recognizes that we can’t fix long lines until we first fix our outdated voter registration system.

Robert Brandon, President, Fair Elections Legal Network:

The bipartisan recommendations released from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration are a compilation of the good reforms advocates have been fighting for across the country. As the Commission points out, some of the reforms like online voter registration, expanded early voting, and increased poll worker training are already in place in various jurisdictions. But for real change to be made and access to voting improved, these reforms need to be broadly implemented in many more states. The responsibility now lies with election officials, and state and local elected officials to improve how elections are run in their communities as soon as possible. We will continue our work to promote these reforms and use the Commission’s work as support for these much needed changes.

In fact, much of what the PCEA recommends, and much of what these and other allies have long recommended, is covered by PFAW in Money Out, Voters In: A Guide to Democratic Reform. Released last fall, the toolkit is founded on our belief in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and where all Americans, regardless of wealth, can express their views to one another and their government on a level playing field.

PFAW looks forward to using the PCEA recommendations as we continue to realize a 'Voters In' vision.

We must keep in mind, though, that the PCEA isn't the last word on American electoral reform. There is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack.

Nor does the PCEA replace what the Voting Rights Act lost after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. PFAW and African American Ministers in Action welcomed last week's introduction of the Voting Rights Amendments Act, and we look forward to working with the House and Senate as they take up this vital legislation. It is imperative that this year, as soon as possible, the President sign into law a strengthened VRA. Please join the fight.

PFAW

Broun introduces anti-VRA amendment. Lewis says not so fast, seeks to empower voters.

On May 9, Representative Paul Broun tried to prohibit the use of Department of Justice (DOJ) funds for enforcing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

You heard me right.

Representative Broun, a Republican whose home state of Georgia is covered by Section 5 of the VRA, tried to stop DOJ from enforcing the requirement that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination have their voting laws and regulations precleared by the federal government or a federal court before they may be changed. It is widely known that the deterrent effect of Section 5 continues to prove significant in protecting minorities against potentially discriminatory electoral changes.

It started at 9:58 pm with the offering of Amendment 1095 during debate on the FY13 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill.

At 10:04 pm, he was sticking to his story.

At 10:12 pm, Representative John Lewis (D), whose experiences during the Civil Rights Movement have made him one of the most respected voices on voting rights, took to the floor to talk some sense into his colleague from Georgia.

At 10:26 pm, the amendment was withdrawn.

But we might not yet be out of the woods. New York Times reporting:

On [May 10], Meredith Griffanti, a spokeswoman for Mr. Broun, who is a medical doctor, said that he “fully believes in the intent of his amendment to prevent the Justice Department from enforcing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” but added that “given the magnitude of this change and out of respect for his colleagues, Dr. Broun withdrew the amendment.”

“He felt as though it deserved ample debate time where all members could participate rather than during a closed-off discussion in the late hours of the evening,” she said. “Dr. Broun looks forward to having this debate in the future.”

(Click for the NYT editorial, and for more information regarding similar attacks on marriage equality and immigration.)

As has been well-documented by PFAW Foundation, Representative Broun isn’t alone in his attacks on voting rights, and Representative Lewis’s work isn’t over.

In fact, Representative Lewis returned a week later to introduce the Voter Empowerment Act (H.R. 5799).

The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple. Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote today than it was even one year ago. The sponsors of this act believe we need to take action or risk losing the liberties we have enjoyed. We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out.

Representative Lewis in The Hill:

We must not be silent while leaders we elect take away our voting rights.

The Lewis bill, supported by 130 House Democrats, has been billed as “comprehensive voting rights legislation,” which seeks to address:

  • Voter registration modernization
  • Disability access
  • Voter caging
  • Deceptive practices
  • Restoration of federal voting rights for certain ex-offenders
  • Accuracy, integrity, and security of elections
  • Provisional ballots
  • Early voting and voting by mail
  • Absentee voting for uniformed and overseas voters
  • Poll worker recruitment and training
  • Federal election integrity
  • Other election administration improvements

Click here for more information from our friends at Demos.

PFAW